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OFF THE YOGA MAT: A novel excerpt by Cheryl J. Fish

Nathaniel and Gil entered the stark warehouse below Canal Street; sage-scented fumes engulfed them and new age music droned.  A hand-written placard listed all the sample sessions

“I’ll grab a shot of wheatgrass juice and check out Sufi dancing,” Gil said. “You can go  for a chakra consultation.”

“What’s a chakra?” Nate asked.

“They come in many colors,” Gil said, walking away.

Before Nate could decide which session he’d tolerate, a woman with red bangs and toned arms handed him a mat. “Don’t be shy,” she said.  “I’m Lulu.  Welcome to yoga.”

Nathaniel noted her light brown complexion and a curl adhered to her forehead; some kind of green-and-black tattoo shimmied below her shoulder blade.  He decided it was a large frog.

“I’m not a yoga guy,” he said, shrugging.

“Come on in. You’re on the path.” She smiled and held open the door.

He stepped into the dimly-lit room, unrolled his mat, and pried off his boots. Many of the others were splayed out still and straight as mummies. A few appeared to be praying.

Lulu walked to the front. “Good afternoon. Thank you for sampling my hatha class. Who here is new to yoga?” Nate’s hand was the only one raised. He withdrew it.

“We begin with warm-up stretches. Drop your head. Notice how the shoulders want to follow.” She spoke in silken tones.

Nathaniel scowled. He jerked forward.

“Remove your straitjacket.  Let go of all tension.”

How did she guess he was wearing one? His back stiffened. His arms felt leaden.

Nathaniel fingered the stubble he’d neglected to shave because Nora wasn’t around to say it hurt to kiss. He was aware of a tightening up and down his legs and a throb in his temple.

“Dangle your arms from their sockets,” Lulu said. “Become rag dolls.” He tried; something cracked.  He didn’t wish to appear cowardly. A few minutes later the lithe and busty teacher invited them to “roll all the way down to the floor.”

Okay, okay, he thought. He appreciated her tone—cajoling yet casual. She mixed metaphors. A hush settled over the room.

As Nate lowered himself, he stumbled. Heads turned. He was like a thick log moored to its roots. Aware of his countless deficiencies, Nate nonetheless knew he could master these moves.

After a few minutes, Lulu crouched next to him, her jasmine scent dizzying. She touched his shoulder and then placed two fingers on his forehead and drew a small circle. He exhaled, and felt a little lightheaded. “I’m keeping my eye on you,” she said.

Lulu turned down the lights and announced they would move into the corpse pose. People retrieved their socks and sweaters and some cuddled up with blankets.

“Savasana requires a willful surrender,” she said. “This part of the practice might surprise you. Go limp and your body settles into relaxation. Then it will expand and re-energize. Let go,” she said musically. “Of every ounce of thought. Dissolve like sugar in tea.”

It was difficult for Nate to ooze into the floor, but after some flailing he stopped struggling. His eyelids fluttered and then they closed. Sleep must have descended because the next thing he knew the room was practically deserted and Lulu was chatting with two students in the afterglow. He jumped up, disoriented. Was it nighttime?  He tried to sneak past Lulu.

She cornered him under a hanging light bulb. Compact and curvy, she resembled a muscular nymph with two-toned hair.

“Don’t run off,” she said.  “Do you notice any difference from when you came in?” She gestured towards his solar plexus. He was not used to taking stock. Did he feel looser? Yes. His joints had some give, and he had to admit something stirred in his genital region. He stepped back and searched for where the frog’s tongue ended. Her shirt obscured it.

“I feel a little better,” he said. “I escaped my head.”

“Fantastic. And you’re curious about my tattoo. That’s a long story.”

“I like stories.”

“I run a yoga studio on First Avenue. Here’s a flier. Come back. Don’t wear jeans.”

“You’ll get better.” Her eyes were brown. No, hazel.

“What’s your name?”

“Nathaniel.”

“A fabulous name. We’ll work together, Nathaniel. You’ll become more flexible. I won’t let you get hurt.” She touched his forearm. “I promise.”

Who was he to argue?  It was worth a try. He lived with chronic pain and procrastination.

“See you later,” Lulu said, waving goodbye.

Gil gave Lulu the once over and turned to Nate. “You lucky dog.”

“Downward-facing dog,” Nate said.

——————————————

Cheryl J. Fish is a fiction writer, poet, professor, and environmental justice scholar.The excerpt here is from the novel manuscript OFF THE YOGA MAT (for which she is seeking agent/publisher). A short story, “Hovering,” recently appeared in the Liars League NYC http://www.liarsleaguenyc.com/blog/2013/11/hovering-by-cheryl-j-fish.html and her poems about Mount St. Helens volcano in the journal Terrain.org http://terrain.org/2013/poetry/two-poems-by-cheryl-j-fish/.  Website: http://www.cheryljfish.com/ Twitter: @cheryljoyfish, Email contact: [email protected].

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